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Massage Therapy
The science behind massage therapy
March 24, 2017 | by Matt Thompson

Peer reviewed literature is the foundation of what makes science, science.

However, when it comes to massage therapy and other forms of alternative medicine, there are less studies and literature to explain why these types of treatment are beneficial.

In this article I’ll explain a bit of the history behind this, some of the research and evidence that is being done and how to ensure your sources are credible.


In Western Medicine, when pharmacology research is done on medication and drugs, there are many variables that are involved in each study. However, the key factor is that the administered dose is a quantifiable chemical with specific variables that can be reproduced repeatedly without any variation in an analytical lab setting.

This is not the case with massage therapy. The multitude of different variables incorporated in treatment make it nearly impossible to reproduce in a controlled setting.

As a Massage Therapist, I have always been frustrated with this. It’s not enough for one to simply say “it just works”.

However, there are two studies in particular I would like to highlight that are offering some great research and insight into the benefits of soft tissue therapy.


Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS is the pain that sets in around 24-48 hours post-exercise as the result of micro trauma to the muscle.

We’ve all gone out for that hard-tempo run or the heavy squat session at the gym where we feel great afterwards and tell ourselves, “yep I’ve still got it!”. That statement is quickly retracted the following day when we get out of bed. Those first couple steps are slow and stiff, and then it all comes crashing down, literally, when we go to sit on the toilet. This is when we find out the hard way that the towel rack is not a weight bearing object.

Thankfully, massage therapy is a great way to treat DOMS, and there is research to support it.

Colleagues from the Center for Health Sciences in Ithaca, NY, conducted a study to investigate the physiological and psychological effects of massage on DOMS. They tested 18 volunteers by inducing DOMS in the hamstrings muscle group. They were treated with massage two hours post-exercise and assessed at 2, 6, 24 and 48 hours post-exercise. The results showed that the intensity of soreness was reduced considerably at the 48-hour mark.


Other research conducted by Mark Rapaport M.D. at Emory University was targeting the effects of massage on the endocrine system (production of hormones).

Rapaport’s preliminary research has found that massage increases the amounts of several types of lymphocytes (white blood cells that support our immune system) and decreases levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”).

Both parties admit that more research needs to be done but the findings thus far have been very promising.


Living in the “information age”, most would say ignorance is a choice. Anyone with access to the internet is able to obtain a tremendous amount of information and many people are overwhelmed with the sheer volume. So where do you begin?

One good way to streamline your findings is to identify one or two credible sources in the area of interest and simply take a look at their bibliography to see what sources they used to formulate their thoughts. This will steer you in the right direction for finding credible peer reviewed research.


Visit the Massage Therapy page on our website to learn more about our services or call to book an appointment today at 604-292-2501.